Liz Smith always knew she wanted to be a mom, but she didn't know the child she was destined to parent was a patient inside the hospital where she worked.
It was two years ago that Smith, director of nursing at Franciscan Children's hospital in Brighton, Massachusetts, first saw baby Gisele. The tiny 8-month-old was being treated for neonatal abstinence syndrome, a group of conditions that occur as a result of a mother using narcotics during pregnancy. Smith, then 43, bonded with Gisele instantly, and when she discovered no one had come to see the tot for five whole months, she started visiting her daily.
Gisele, who was born prematurely at another hospital in July 2016, required a feeding tube and was transferred to Franciscan Children's for specialized care. The little girl was a ward of the state, and social service workers were trying to place her in foster care, the Washington Post reported. Smith hadn't really considered fostering or adoption, but the moment she laid eyes on Gisele, that all changed.
"I'm going to foster this baby," she recalled saying on the drive home from the hospital. "I'm going to be her mother.
Smith put in a request to foster Gisele, and three weeks later, she received permission to bring her home. But the goal was to reunite the baby with her birth parents. That meant Gisele's parents had weekly visits that were supervised by the Department of Children and Family Services. After a few months, these visits became less frequent, and the state terminated their parental rights.
"When I got the call that the parents' rights were terminated, I imagined that it would be a day of relief," Smith said in an article shared on the Franciscan Children's website. "And it was a day I was really sad. I was really happy. But I was really sad for them. I was gaining her but they were losing her. And to try to battle addiction and being a mom, that's impossible."
So Smith moved forward with the adoption process, and on October 18 of last year, her family gathered at the courthouse to finalize Gisele's adoption. The judge praised Smith, telling her, "When a judge walks in the room, everyone stands out of respect. But today I stand in respect for you, Liz because you deserve the respect from this room. A birthing day is a miracle. But adopting a child from miles away is destiny. That's what brought you two together."
Gisele is now 2 years old and thriving. She still gets most of her nutrition from a feeding tube, but she has developed a taste for pizza and avocados. "If you told me a year ago she would be asking for pizza I would not have believed you," Smith said. "She's doing remarkable, it's just a slow progression, but in the right direction."
And Smith couldn't be happier to see her daughter growing and doing so well. "The experience of being a mom is like nothing I could've imagined," she told Today. "Every day there's something different about Gisele, and it's just an experience that you can't even describe."
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This article originally appeared on Parents.com